Navajo Nation volunteers with the Authorized Local Emergency Response Team, or A.L.E.R.T., inspect the Upper Fruitland irrigation that has been diverted back into the San Juan River on Aug. 8 in Upper Fruitland, N.M. Since the river was contaminated, tribal officials have turned off the irrigation in an effort to prevent potentially contaminating it. Begaye has decided to not turn reopen the irrigation for farmers and ranchers. (Navajo Times photo – Donovan Quintero)
Published August 25, 2015
CHINLE, ARIZONA—In spite of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency having given the green light to use the San Juan River for irrigation, President Russell Begaye on Monday issued a press release stating he had decided to keep the canals closed, based on a meeting with Shiprock area farmers last Thursday and a Shiprock Chapter resolution passed Sunday urging him not to open the headgates.
Begaye said in the release both the meeting and the resolution indicate farmers still have concerns about using the water, although farmers off the reservation have been using it for over a week and the Animals River upstream is open for boating and fishing.
“I’m glad the water samples indicate the water is safe for irrigation use but I remain concerned over the soil and sediment that lines our river bank,” said President Begaye. “Every time a heavy storm hits or the soil is disturbed it can recontaminate the water.”
The NNEPA will have final results from their soil samples this week.
Although the USEPA has released data indicating both the Animas and San Juan rivers are back to normal after an Aug. 5 mine wastewater spill the agency accidentally released from an abandoned mine above Silverton, Colo., Begaye blamed the feds for the continued closure.
“I am furious that the USEPA has placed the Navajo Nation into this position. Our farms will not last much longer without water and our resources are depleting,” Begaye stated in the release.
The USEPA stopped delivering water and hay to affected ranchers Friday after releasing its latest findings, but Begaye said the tribe and the BIA will continue to assist.
He urged other chapters affected by the closure to pass resolutions on whether or not they approve of opening the headgates to the canals.
Shiprock voted 104-0-9 to leave the water off.